In years past, the Langley Blaze have been fueled by strong starting pitching, but this year’s team may have a slightly different motif.
“Extremely deep hitting, probably the deepest we have had in four or five years,” said Blaze coach Jamie Bodaly.
“Incredibly deep: one through nine we can mash the ball.
“We just have a really special team this year.”
That power was on display over the weekend as the U18 baseball team won the KR3 Best of the West tournament in Kamloops for a fourth consecutive year.
Nick Rutckyj blasted two home runs while Mason Cratty hit another in an 11-1 victory over the Okotoks Dawgs in the championship final.
Kyle Ross and Kristjan Storrie combined on the mound to allow just the single run.
Justin Lawrence earned most valuable player honours.
And the best of the bunch just may be catcher/third-baseman Tyler O’Neill, who Bodaly called the best hitter in Canada for his age group and a likely high pick in June’s Major League Baseball entry draft.
Bodaly said O’Neill definitely upped his profile for scouts with his performance in Arizona last month on the Blaze’s annual spring training trip where they face some of the MLB rookie teams.
The Blaze did well on the trip, beating the Cincinnati rookies, falling to San Diego by one run, and then leading Milwaukee by eight runs before Langley’s pitching collapsed and let the Brewers take over.
“(Tyler) definitely raised his draft status,” Bodaly said.
“Before Arizona, he was probably a fifth round pick. He just did so well in Arizona, I can see him going in the second round or a sandwich (compensatory round) pick.”
In 2012, O’Neill was third in the B.C. Premier Baseball League with a .398 average. He led the league in both home runs (six) and RBIs (39).
Where the team will need to improve is the pitching staff, which while not as strong as in year’s past, should still be OK.
“We have three Grade 10 kids who should be good,” Bodaly predicted. “They are going to struggle at the start, but once the summer gets around and they get into their groove, I think they are going to be really good.
“The biggest thing is you have to throw strikes; right now we have been struggling to do that, but that will come eventually, I hope,” he said.
The Blaze opened the PBL season with a 4-3 loss to Abbotsford on Tuesday. They play at North Delta Saturday and host Vancouver Sunday at McLeod Park at noon and 3 p.m.